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Public Service

Apparently it takes an economic disaster for people to start looking at what the local government has been up to with tax money. The Local Puppy Trainer is filled with the stories.

I’ve talked about the Sheriff’s problem which led to this dig by a crime victim, Cash Moore: “‘The main thing is … try to help me see whether they’ll give me my 800 back,’ he said. ‘If I don’t hurry up and get my 800 back, they’ll give it out as a bonus.'”

Cash [that’s his real, legal, first name] owns most of the liquor stores, and a good number of the strip clubs [male, as well as female] in the county. He had gone after a guy who had robbed one of his stores of $800, and nearly got his head shot off in the effort. The $800 is being held as evidence by the Sheriff’s Department.

In the Clerk of Courts office a Fired county clerk arrested over missing funds. The individual was performing marriages at the Clerk’s office, but not recording or turning in the $30 when the happy couple paid in cash. No one has suggested that the marriages performed aren’t legal because they were part of a crime. [Just causing trouble because no one married in the Okaloosa Clerk of the Courts office is going to have their divorce featured on Court TV.]

Now, we get to the Okaloosa County Tax Collector, Chris Hughes.

If you had had to pick up a license plate in this county under the guy before Chris Hughes, you would understand why people have supported him. Under Chris Hughes the office for the South County has moved from a strip mall with a half dozen parking spaces out in an industrial zone, to a central location on a major street with a traffic light.

When the news about the “$692,000 in performance bonuses in 3 years” broke, I still supported him, because this year he introduced renewing your plate over the ‘Net and renewing for 2 years at a time. Even after I found out that he attended “the church for people who think they have a right to park on my Mother’s lawn”, I supported him, but not as strongly.

Then it turned out that most of the people who received bonuses were also members of the same church, and they were involved in Chris Hughes’s separate ministry, doing some of the work for the ministry on office computers. My support eroded.

This is the final insult: Hughes’ travel bill: $180,000

Okaloosa County Tax Collector Chris Hughes has spent more than $180,000 since October 2005 sending himself and other members of his staff on more than 100 trips to training sessions, meetings and conferences, records from his office show.

That total includes $63,170 in out-of-state travel.

In October 2008, Hughes and 19 of his staff attended a five-day tax collector’s conference in Sandestin. The cost: $14,791.

In an e-mail, Hughes confirmed that the 20 staff members who attended the conference stayed at the exclusive beach resort, which is 28 miles from the Fort Walton Beach office of the tax collector.

The Tax Collector’s Office is two blocks away from where the guy who mows my lawn lives. He works full-time at a golf course next door to the Sandestin Resort and commutes for a lot less money than the people in the Tax Collector’s Office make.

Since Chris Hughes seems to have been involved with this conference, one has to wonder why he didn’t use the Okaloosa County Convention Center, rather than a resort just inside Walton County? The revenue from the “bed tax” and the sales tax from the conference went to Walton, not Okaloosa, County.

Chris says he collected $1.5 million for the county this year, but he’s averaging over a quarter million dollars in bonuses and travel expenses a year. The county can’t afford him. He has done a lot of good for customer service at the Tax Collector’s Office, but he doesn’t understand taxpayers.


1 Joanne W Webster { 04.12.09 at 9:16 pm }

Public officials should be stewards of the taxpayer’s money with a goal of saving money for the county…not spending what they think has been gained. My question is this…what is his involvement with the Charles Morris bonus issue? also, why did none of this information show up in the annual audits? also…why does a local tax collector need to travel out of state for anything at all when online training is available for his staff at all times…what’s done in secret will be revealed in daylight…revelations are coming daily.

2 Bryan { 04.12.09 at 10:06 pm }

Well, Joanne, this is what you get when you run government “like a business”. Nothing that was done would be looked at twice if this had occurred in a corporate environment, even though it is just as wasteful. These practices are the same things that annoy people about the bankers who get bailed out by the government.

The same sorts of things happened during the savings & loan bailout of the Reagan and then Bush years.

This sort of behavior must be taught in business schools, because it occurs too consistently to just be individuals. There has to be a management text book somewhere that emphasizes handing out bonuses and letting employees travel to have “an efficient organization”. It shouldn’t be happening in any non-profit, government or private, because it wastes resources needed for the services.

The failure of audits really bothers me. What is the point of paying for audits, if years go by before problems are discovered? Both of the secondary audits just completed at the Sheriff’s Office specifically mentioned the standard audits that have been taking place annually without finding these problems.

The system is broken and it will take a lot of work to repair it. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time, because we don’t have the money to do what needs doing, and now we have additional problems.